There is a lot of confusing information regarding what type of hardwood floor is best for each individual application. Hopefully this information sheet will help explain which construction is best for your project. Below is a brief description of each construction and perceived myths about each product.
The Best Hardwood Floors For Your Home:
Solid Hardwood Flooring
Solid hardwood flooring is just as it sounds, one solid piece of material that is cut from the tree. Solid hardwood flooring has been used as a building product for hundreds of years and was once the subfloor in all homes prior to the 1970’s. There are 100 year old structures today that still have the original hardwood floors installed and look beautiful. Solid hardwood is typically nailed down over a wood subfloor on or above grade. Solid hardwood flooring can be sanded and refinished multiple times making it a product that should last the lifetime of your home.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Engineered flooring is constructed of multiple veneers of wood, with each veneer being turned 90 degrees to create
“stability”. Engineered floors were developed for customers with concrete subfloors that want hardwood flooring,
either in their basement or on slab. The construction of engineered floors allows them to be glued directly or floated
over a concrete subfloor. Refinishing engineered floors depends upon the thickness of the hardwood surface veneer.
Solid Sawn or Structured Hardwood Flooring
Solid Sawn (structured) Hardwood flooring is a constructed of solid layers of wood. The surface layer, core and back
are all sawn lamellas that are adhered together to form a structured construction. Solid sawn is different from
engineered in that each layer is solid hardwood instead of peeled veneers of hardwood. Typically each lamella of
hardwood in solid sawn is the same species or same species of specific gravity so each layer works together to achieve
Solid sawn floors typically have a sandable surface layer that can be refinished 3-4 times, similar to solid hardwood flooring. Solid sawn construction is typically used on wide format material, 5”, 7,” 9”, 10”and 12”wide, and is great for areas where humidity control is not existent. Since solid sawn is technically a solid piece of wood sawn into 3 different layers, it can run 20-40% higher than solid hardwood due to the labor to manufacturer the material.
Frequently asked questions:
I’ve been told that engineered hardwood flooring is more stable and better for wider boards?
Wide plank, both solid or engineered, will expand and contract with changes in moisture/humidity. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends a humidity range of 30-50% RH and most manufacturers warrant both products from 35-55% RH, which are considered normal humidity conditions. Problems occur when moisture levels get outside of this “normal range”. Solid hardwood flooring may cup or gap with extreme changes in moisture content, both are correctable by adding or reducing humidity levels. Engineered flooring will also gap or cup in extreme changes of humidity, but when enough stress is introduced to the hardwood veneer (top layer), which is significantly stronger than the softwood core veneers below, engineered floors will either face check or delaminate. Face checking and delamination are both failures, which as you can see in the attached warranties, are not covered by factory warranties. Solid sawn floors are built to handle extreme changes in humidity, so if humidification control is an issue solid sawn may be a better choice.
Humidification controls are recommended for all widths of solid, structured and engineered hardwood floors to be warranted.
What happens when I spill something on my hardwood floor?
Solid hardwood, as a living tree, had a cell structure full of water/sap to take nutrients to the top of the tree. Now as a building product, it has been kiln dried and the cell structure is now filled with air. It would take a tremendous amount of liquid for a solid hardwood floor to react. Engineered hardwood flooring is multiple thin veneers of mainly softwoods with significantly less absorption, spills on engineered material can have significant damaging effects. Solid sawn has more absorption, due to the thicker lamellas, than engineered and will not react as fast as engineered flooring.
The Midwest can have some extreme changes in temperature from season to season, which product will perform better for our climate?
Both Solid and Engineered floors will perform similarly for 80% of the year when humidity levels are between 40-60% relative humidity. It’s when we get extreme weather that causes issues with hardwood floors. If we get an extreme cold snap during the winter we have seen humidity levels in homes drop to below 20% RH, this not only puts extreme stress on all hardwood flooring but also other wood products in your home. Think of your own skin during cold snaps, it gets dry and itchy, your own body is telling you to do something about it and most people apply lotion to correct the dryness. Hardwood floors are very similar, solid hardwood will contract during dry spells showing you it’s dry and to add some humidity to the environment.
Once moisture levels get back to a normal range of 6-8%, a solid wood floor will close back up and the gaps disappear. The floor is not failing, it’s just reacting to the environment similar to your own skin. Engineered floors have the same type of reaction to dry weather but due to the construction they typically don’t show it until it’s a problem. Engineered floors are still made of veneers of wood that will expand and contract. In dry environments those veneers can be under a tremendous amount of stress and they show you it’s dry by face checking or delamination, which are failures in the floor not covered by manufacturers warranties. When moisture levels recover in engineered floors, it does not correct the failure in the product. Solid sawn or structured floors are built to withstand more extreme swings in humidity change and are typically warranted from 25-70% relative humidity. Solid sawn would be a good choice if your environment has a hard time keeping consistent humidity.
I’m still not sure which is the best structure for me, what do you recommend?
That all depends upon several factors, budget, application, environment, etc. We typically sell different types of structures based on the answers to several qualifying questions our staff will ask. If you are going in a basement or on a slab you definitely need an engineered or structured floor that can glue down or float over the concrete.
If you’re installing the floor on or above grade over plywood we tend to show people solid wood that has refinish ability and usually lasts the lifetime of the structure. If you’re on a budget or flipping a house, some engineered floors are less expensive than solid wood and can fill that low cost need.
If humidity control is a concern or you’re choosing a product over 6” wide, solid sawn was developed for both of these situations. The best comparison between solid and engineered hardwood would be a piece of furniture. If you’re going furniture shopping, think about what type of furniture your would prefer, solid wood or veneers of wood. A hardwood floor is the largest piece of furniture in your home.
Have additional questions? Get in touch with us – we’re happy to help!
The decision to use solid or engineered hardwood should be made based on the application for your installation and the long term investment you are making to your home.